ISAPP unveils five criteria for consumers to consider in choosing probiotics

2/5/2009

DAVIS, Calif. The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics on Wednesday unveiled five key criteria that consumers should consider when selecting a probiotic product — strain specificity, clinical proof, packaging and the quality and quantity of probiotics in a product.

Titled the “Ps and Qs of Probiotics,” these criteria were developed to help consumers select credible, effective probiotic products in a crowded market. "These new guidelines set a high standard that few probiotic products currently on the market can meet," stated Susan Abeln, principal scientist, Procter & Gamble research and development. P&G markets the probiotic Align.

The new guidelines, however, appear more geared toward healthcare professionals than consumers. For example, ISAPP suggests that not all probiotics are created equal: “Probiotics within the same genus (or group), such as Bifidobacterium, do not necessarily provide the same benefits. A probiotic is defined by its genus (e.g. Lactobacillus), species (e.g. rhamnosus) and strain designation (often a combination of letters or numbers). The names sound complicated, but they are important to connecting the specific probiotic strain to the strain’s published scientific literature.” Literature that such healthcare professionals as pharmacists and retail clinicians may have a greater degree of familiarity with, as compared with consumers.

In fact, the ISAPP identifies the pharmacist as a valuable resource to help consumers sort through complicated research. “Make certain that product claims of health benefits are based on sound research done on the particular probiotic,” the ISAPP suggests. Check product Web sites to see study results. Your pharmacist or healthcare provider should be able to help you sort through the scientific language.”

To help consumers navigate the aisles in search of beneficial probiotic products, ISAPP suggested consumers look for some key information on the label. For example, the strain of probiotic, along with information on colony forming units, idenitifies how many living microorganisms are in each serving. However, ISAPP cautions consumers that more CFU does not necessarily equate to a better probiotic. For that they need to double back and check the strain and CFU against the appropriate clinical trial — some probiotics deliver benefits with as few as 50 million CFU.

Consumers also should look to the label to identify suggested serving size and what health benefits will be realized through consuming the strain identified on the packaging. Information on proper storage conditions is important as well — storing some probiotic products after opening, even at room temperature, can render the strains ineffective. Packaging also should contain information on expiration dates, ISAPP noted.

ISAPP also suggested that responsible manufacturers will post corporate contact information on their product lableling. “Some products labeled ‘probiotic’ do not have clinically validated strains or levels in the product,” ISAPP noted. “Although the scientific definition of probiotic stipulates that products be clinically evaluated, not all manufacturers abide by that.”

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